Preview: SongbirdSOS examines declining numbers of feathered friends

My Toronto backyard is a playground for songbirds. We have a resident cardinal and his mate that have claimed our property as theirs. Robins, sparrows, chickadees and crows land on the lawn in droves. We’ve had woodpeckers on our dying tree in the back, and goldfinches in the flowers out front.

But we’re on the verge of losing our birds forever. That’s what SongbirdSOS—part of Thursday’s episode of The Nature of Things—posits. As York University’s Dr. Bridget Stutchbury says, species of birds still exist, but their numbers are way down. The wood thrush population in the Americas is down 62 per cent since 1966; the Baltimore Oriole is down over 45 per cent; the Bobolink has seen a 64 per cent decline. The question is, why?

Beautifully shot, SongbirdSOS suggests a few sobering answers. Mankind’s creation of artificial light has messed with the birds’ ability to migrate during the night, disorienting them and causing midair collisions. And, of course, we’ve constructed huge skyscrapers that songbirds fly into, a point driven home by FLAP  (Fatal Light Awareness Program) Canada when they lay out the bodies of hundreds of dead birds on a plain white sheet for all to see. Lost breeding and wintering habitats in rain forests, wetlands and boreal forests, oil pipelines and farm pesticides are contributing to declining song bird numbers, as well as house cats.

On the positive side, there are steps being taken to halt the dropping populations, including allowing birds to feast on hurtful insects in Costa Rican coffee fields and mandating building owners to switch off the lights at night. Hopefully enough changes will come in time to save the songbirds before their tunes cease.

The Nature of Things airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.